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The founders were inspired by San Francisco-based 826 Valencia, a young people’s creative writing centre that had to sell pirate supplies in order to open a school in an area, which the authorities had zoned as retail only.
The idea has been so successful that 826 Valencia now has sister centres in seven other US cities, all working under the umbrella of the 826 national network.
The Ministry of Stories takes a similar approach and is funded by the Arts Council as well as proceeds from the shop. Nick Hornby, Lucy Macnab and Ben Payne founded the Ministry of Stories in 2010 and in its first year more than 3,000 young people took part in volunteer-led workshops and writing projects.
Macnab says: “It’s amazing that people sometimes shop at Hoxton Street Monster Supplies without knowing what’s behind the secret door. Our volunteer shopkeepers are great at explaining that all proceeds from sales of monster products support free writing workshops for local young people.
“For children and young people from the local area it’s a special thing that the writing centre is not obviously accessible from the street as it becomes a place just for them, their imaginations and the stories they write. Like all good secrets, people tend to pass them on. So teachers, parents and volunteers tell their friends and that is how people find us.”
The shop sells products ranging from cubed ‘earwax’ (fudge), zombie fresh mints and a range of children’s ‘Tinned Fear’ – tins that contain sweets and specially commissioned short stories, for example Mortal Terror written by Zadie Smith and The Chills by Jeremy Strong. The proceeds from the shop help fund the charity.
Macnab adds: “What’s great about having two sides to the organisation is how much we can share between the two elements of what we do – the shop fires up children’s imaginations and provides financial support to help run writing workshops and the children create amazing publications, for example the Awfully Bad Guide to Monster Housekeeping, that we’re able to sell in the shop.”